Iraqi Guerrillas Attacked Us Military

*Iraqi guerrillas attacked a US military convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire, killing two soldiers and injuring a third. The attack came near Tel Afar, west of Mosul. All the casualties were from the 101st Airborne Division.

*There was another big demonstration in Najaf on Sunday, several thousand strong, by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr against the US presence in the city. The NYT maintained that many of the demonstators had been bused in from East Baghdad, but offered no evidence that this was the case. At one point a Sadr cleric read a list of demands to the the US commander, including immediate evacuation of US troops from the holy city. He also wanted an end to US interference in the running of the local television station, according to AFP.

In return, the translator for the US forces told the crowd they would have to show respect or be considered a threat to US forces. He had been instructed to tell them to disband. Sadr Movement leaders promised another demonstration on Monday, and some were talking about bringing their guns. Apparently the helicopters and extra humvees in the city on Saturday had been intended to provide security for Wolfowitz, but the Sadr supporters took them as a sign that the US was about to arrest Muqtada. The local commander says he has no interest in arresting Muqtada. It is interesting that Muqtada assumed after his defiant sermon on Friday that the US would move against him. In part he may have based this expectation on what used to happen under Saddam. But in part it might come from knowing that Sadr Movement preachers have occasionally been detained by the Us briefly, apparently as a sort of warning not to go too far.

*On Meet the Press on Sunday, Paul Bremer responded to a question about Muqtada al-Sadr:

Tim Russert: We had a situation the other day where one of the ranking Shiite clerics in Iraq called for an Islamic army, saying no to America, no to the devil. This was the scene yesterday as many of his supporters were protesting American presence. Would it be helpful, in order to deal with Iraqis like this, and the clerics solder, that there be more of an international flavor to the occupying force, so it would not be perceived by the Iraqis as simply a made in America operation?

Ambassador Paul Bremer: That I don’t think is the problem here. What we’re seeing is an understandable reaction by the Shia whom he — he is a Shia cleric. They were crushed by Saddam over a period of really decades, and in fact, for centuries. We had last week, a week ago today, the first governing council established with a majority of Shia. The Shia had never been in the majority today and they’re delighted. And I should add that you showed this story, but in the same story in the Washington Post two members of the governing council, who are leading Shia, basically said — basically distanced themselves from him and said, look, we’ve got an ability now in the governing council to carry out the desires of the Shia people. And I think that’s where the concentration should be now.

It is interesting that Bremer characterizes Muqtada’s identification of America with Satan and his call for an Islamic militia as “understandable” given that he is a Shiite clergyman and given that Saddam crushed the Shiites for decades. He sees how the Sadr Movement comes out of Baath brutalization and at times virtual genocide. The problem with quoting members of the appointed Governing Council against Muqtada is that none of them has his following in the country. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq representative, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is widely seen as an Iranian pawn by ordinary Iraqi Shiites and only has influence in a few towns in the east near Iran. Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum is a good man, but he has been in London a long time and does not have a grassroots organization. Nobody among the Sadrists thinks that the Communist or the ex-Baathists on the Council are real Shiites.

*Ibrahim Khayyat writes in al-Hayat that Wolfowitz’s visit to Baghdad was in part for the purpose of “closing the file” on the Defense Department’s involvement in the civil administration of Iraq. He says that Wolfowitz told his loyalists, seeded in the civil administration earlier, that the State Department is now taking over, and that things may be hard for those who remain behind (many, Khayyat says, are leaving). Also imperilled are some members of the Governing Council who were picks of the Pentagon, like Ahmad Chalabi.

Khayyat speculates, however, that Bush may not leave Bremer himself in place. Bremer is talking about Iraqi elections in late 2004 or early 2005, and Bush is said to want them out of the way before the US presidential election, so it can be portrayed to the American people that the US has handed off Iraqi sovereignty to an elected government. If Bremer looks like he can’t get the job done that fast, Khayyat thinks, the Bremer himself may be dismissed in favor of someone more agile.

I haven’t seen this sort of report on US infighting in the American press, and it is interesting, but I can’t vouch for its accuracy.